February 29, 2012

Complex public-private partnerships in France’s rail and highway sectors net Willkie top honors from leading global project finance publications.

Project Finance International (PFI) and Project Finance Magazine (PFM), two leading publications covering all aspects and stages of global project finance intelligence, recently named the following two infrastructure financing projects that the Paris office worked on as 2011 deals of the year:

  • the €8 billion high speed rail project (SEA HSR) received PFI’s and PFM’s "Europe Rail Deal of the Year" awards, and

  • the Eco-tax project, an automatic taxation system of heavy-trucks on the French motorway’s network, received PFI’s "Europe PPP Deal of the Year" and PFM’s "European Transport Technology Deal of the Year."

The honors were bestowed during the respective publications’ special awards ceremonies, both of which were held in London in February 2012.

PFI recognized the €8 billion SEA HSR project, a 302km (187.6 mile) high speed rail link between Tours and Bordeaux, France that is expected to take six years to design and build from the time work commences in the first half of 2012, for being both "gargantuan" and a "real test of liquidity in 2010 and 2011." Willkie acted as legal advisor to the European Investment Bank (EIB) in its role as the largest single external bank-debt provider to the global project financing for SEA HSR. We advised on all aspects of EIB’s €1.2 billion contribution—its largest loan ever awarded in France—to the overall project financing. EIB’s contribution was a combination of the senior debt, the portion of the equity bridge loan financed by the EIB, and the Loan Guarantee on TEN-T projects (LGTT), an instrument put in place jointly with the European Commission. Amir Jahanguiri, Driss Bererhi and Farah El-Bsat advised the EIB on the senior debt, the equity bridge loan and all related financing and intercreditors’ aspects of the transaction. A team lead by Eduardo Fernandez and including Michael Armandou and Darko Adamovic advised the EIB on the LGTT financing related matters (including intercreditor and structuring issues). Thierry Laloum acted as special legal advisor to the EIB on various administrative law issues.

PFI honored Eco-tax not for its size—several PPPs were larger—but for its complexity. PFI and Project Finance Magazine said the deal stood out for a number of reasons, including the rare awarding of a contract to a foreign sponsor and a number of financing firsts. "The deal is the first time tax has been administered through a PPP and provides not only high returns for the private partners but also is the first time the French state will receive a return on investment for a PPP."

We advised Ecomouv, a consortium led by Autostrade per l’Italia, the leading European concessionaire for toll motorway construction and management, and its parent company, Atlantia, on the negotiation of the PPP contract with the French State and of the financing documents and the drafting and negotiation of all industrial contracts for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the Eco-tax project. The project is expected to generate €1.2 billion annually in revenue for the State, €2.7 billion in overall revenue for Ecomouv' and represents a €650 million investment. The team included partners Amir Jahanguiri and Thierry Laloum, special European counsel Driss Bererhi and associates Farah El-Bsat, Anne-Laure Barel and Iris Géniès.

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